Volleyball: Henderson's girls all set to do it again

By Ben Guild

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Otumoetai College's Emily Farron spikes the ball during her side's victorious run at the Bay of Plenty secondary school volleyball champs. Photo/Andrew Warner
Otumoetai College's Emily Farron spikes the ball during her side's victorious run at the Bay of Plenty secondary school volleyball champs. Photo/Andrew Warner

Dynasty is a dirty word around the defending national champion Otumoetai College girls' volleyball team.

Like most successful sporting outfits, players and coaches shy away from focusing on outcomes in lieu of perfecting processes and mending methods.

Instead, it is left to media types to proclaim what might be before it has a chance to happen.

So here is the tip: these girls have a serious chance of going back-to-back, if not back-to-back-to-back in the next two years. Ten-time national champion coach Stu Henderson will no doubt cringe when he reads this, but that is what he gets for plucking a plethora of 15-year-old kids and taking them to last year's national title.

"Last year we did not expect to win, I did not expect to win," Henderson said. "It was just a very, very young team. I'm lucky in respect to the players we have here. It's only Melissa and Claudia that are Year 13, the rest are Year 12 or Year 11.

"Sometimes people look at me sideways when I choose younger players to go in, but I've been around long enough to know when I see a good player and whether they are going to perform or not. You just back your judgment and it normally works."

The latest youngster to roll off the production line is 15-year-old Year 11 student McKenna Armstrong, who patrolled the middle like a woman among girls in the juniors last season.

"It's very different from juniors, but the transition was so easy because it's such a welcoming team and I'm enjoying it a lot more than juniors because the competition is harder, which makes me play better," Armstrong said.

Captain Claudia Richardson, who has collected a silver and gold medal at the last two nationals, has no interest in completing the set.

"The captaincy is good, it's a privilege and I enjoy it. I'm not necessarily the loudest one on the team but I think I bring a good overall balance.

"It's a great bunch of girls, we all get along together well. I think that's really important, being in a team where everyone feels comfortable and there isn't too much drama."

Henderson is embracing the perception his girls are the team to beat. "We are very aware that we have a target on our backs and we have to prepare accordingly. We have to make sure we don't take any team lightly and treat every team with respect and play our hardest."

He was loath to compare this year's squad with those of previous years but reluctantly admitted the school's latest offering could be the pick of the bunch.

"I don't like making comparisons, but we've probably got a stronger squad because the players we put in last year have got so much more experience now. We've been playing all players in all games, which has given everyone a very good grounding.

"You can't win it with six or seven players, you have to have your whole squad there. It's pretty tiring. Every day you have two games and a duty, so that's about five or six hours, and that goes on for four and a half days." Henderson rated Mount Maunganui, Tauranga Girls', Waimea and Westlake Girls' as the team's toughest challengers.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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